New England's Iconic Lighthouses
Video courtesy Mystic Seaport
For centuries, lighthouse warnings have saved ships and lives along New England’s 6,000 miles of coastline. Tall and white, squat and striped, remote and accessible: each New England lighthouse is different. Together, they are symbols of the region and its maritime heritage. All the six New England states have lighthouses. Some you can admire from afar; others are open for visits; you can even stay overnight in a few. Perfect for photographers and fun for families, each lighthouse has a story to tell. Why not 'collect' lights? With well over 150, New England has plenty to keep you busy!
Lighthouses have guided shipping through Long Island Sound ever since settlers could afford to build them. The oldest is New London Harbor Light, established way back in 1761. To see the Sheffield Island Light, take a cruise out of Norwalk. As well as seeing the 144-year-old lighthouse, the island has wildlife and unspoiled beaches. Back on the mainland, the Old Lighthouse Museum in Stonington is in the stone 1840 lighthouse. Learn about the daily lives of fishermen and farmers, merchants and shipbuilders; then, climb the old iron stairs to the top of the tower for grand views over the ocean.
Some 66 lighthouses protect shipping along Maine’s rocky shoreline, from the Nubble Light on Cape Neddick, near York, all the way to West Quoddy Head, near Lubec. The only candy-striped lighthouse in the U.S.A., this is Maine's most famous light and the easternmost point of land in the United States. In the state’s midcoast region, Rockland is home to the Maine Lighthouse Museum. See the country’s largest collection of lighthouse and Coast Guard memorabilia, then walk out along the mile-long breakwater (open weekends in summer) to the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse. From Boothbay Harbor, take an educational tour to the Burnt Island Light Station (seasonal).
- Maine Open Lighthouse Day (September 19, 2015)
The 50 lighthouses studding the Bay State’s coast are testimony to the importance of seafaring, then and now. Long a busy fishing port, Gloucester is guarded by three lighthouses, including Eastern Point Light with its unusual breakwater and the lighthouse station where artist Winslow Homer lived and painted some of his finest works more than a century ago. As well as some of America’s finest beaches, Cape Cod and the Cape Cod National Seashore have some of the country’s most historic lighthouses. Highland Light (also known as Cape Cod Light) is near Truro (guided tours May-Oct.); Nauset Light is near Eastham (open Sun. and Wed. in season); and Race Point Light (tours in season) is out near the tip of Cape Cod.
The Granite State may have only 18 miles of coast, but there are some impressive lighthouses. The easiest to get to is the Portsmouth Harbor Light, established in 1771 as the American colonies’ first light station north of Boston. The Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse offer regular tours: climb 44 stairs to the watch room, then a seven-rung ladder to the lantern room. On the Isles of Shoals, the remote White Island Light is a highlight of cruises from Portsmouth (Isles of Shoals Steamship Co., Portsmouth Harbor Cruises) and Rye (Island Cruises). Inland, there are also three lighthouses on Lake Sunapee.
The Ocean State has a grand maritime tradition, usually associated with yacht racing. But a score of lighthouses are a reminder that Little Rhody was also a major trading state. One of the oldest lighthouse sites in America is Watch Hill, established by the colony of Rhode Island in 1807. Out in Westerly, a popular vacation destination, the Watch Hill Light is still active and has a small museum on the grounds (open in summer). Twelve miles offshore, Block Island, accessed by ferry, has two atmospheric lighthouses: the North Light and Southeast Light (open in summer, with a museum and gift shop). A mile offshore, in Narragansett Bay, the Rose Island Lighthouse is something special. Accessible only by boat, this is now a B&B.
The Green Mountain State is not on the ocean, but 120-mile long Lake Champlain is big enough to have witnessed two naval battles – in 1776 and 1814. Both were against the British Navy. Although the lake lighthouses are pretty as a picture, the most accessible is on dry ground at the Shelburne Museum, where the former lighthouse guarding Colchester Reef on Lake Champlain is now a popular visitor attraction. Experience daily 19th-century life on the lake and learn about Lake Champlain history.